Staying Home for a Road Trip!
By Bob Tagert
Staying home for a Road Trip!
Over the years we have taken many road trips for this article with some of them being a great distance. With nice weather finally and the beginning of summer, we decided to spotlight a few of our favorite places near Alexandria.
We will start off by heading south. When was the last time you visited George Washington’s Mount Vernon? Have you ever been? Although July is a huge tourist month and the crowds will be large, there is plenty of land to spread out. Mount Vernon is an iconic American landmark – an enduring reminder of the life and legacy of the Father of Our Country, and today, these reminders are more important than ever. Once a vibrant plantation in the 18th century, the estate is now one of the nation’s most visited historic sites. Tour the mansion, out buildings housing trades of the day, gardens and landscapes, the tombs of George and Martha and much more. Be sure to visit the newly constructed boat shed where our friend Howell Crimm and his crew are building a replica boat
` Back down the GW Parkway towards Old Town you can find Belle Haven Marina and Dyke Marsh located on the west bank of the Potomac River. Dyke Marsh consists of about 380 acres of tidal marsh, floodplain, and swamp forest. Formed 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, Dyke Marsh is one of the largest remaining pieces of freshwater tidal wetlands left in the Baltimore-Washington Metro area. The marsh contains a wide array of plant and animal life. “Haul Road” is a trail that leads visitors into the marsh. Here the fresh water of the upper Potomac mixes with the salt water for the lower Potomac. The fresh water tends to float above the tidal salt water producing a tidal freshwater marsh. You can also rent a kayak or canoe at Belle Haven Marina and do a lazy float on the river along the banks of the marsh.
Belle Haven Marina is truly one of the hidden secrets of Alexandria. This is a quaint, scenic marina that has become an oasis for boaters in the area. The marina offers canoe and kayak rentals, Sunfish and Flying Scot sailboats for rent. If the mood strikes you, they offer the best sailing instructors around for your first lesson…it won’t be your last.
Going west you can cross over the Woodrow Wilson bridge and visit National Harbor and the future home of the new MGM Casino and Hotel. The casino is not completed yet, but plans to open in November. No worries, there are still great paces to eat, the Capital Observation Wheel for a birds eye view of the area. In the cove they offer paddle- boat rentals as well as a pirate ship for kids of all ages. The ship is attacked while at sea and the kids (of all ages) get to fire water cannons upon the marauders.
There is also a water taxi that runs from the Alexandria waterfront to National Harbor and is a very convenient and scenic way to get to the Harbor and back. Potomac Riverboat Company also offers a round trip narrated monument tour to Georgetown and new this year, round trip transportation via the water to National Mall in Washington.
Heading farther west on I-95 and then taking Route 50 east you can visit Annapolis, the capital of Maryland. Like Old Town, Annapolis is a seafaring town where old warehouses have been converted to beautiful restaurants and shops. Besides visiting Ego Alley, the main waterfront, and taking it all in, you can also book a cruise on the Schooner Woodwind. Sail the Chesapeake on a 74-foot schooner! Raise the sails, man the helm, or sit back and relax on a two-hour sail. If you are lucky, our friend Kevin Brooks and “The Eastport Oyster Boys” will be aboard offering their own brand of eastern shore music to lighten your load.
Annapolis is also the home of the U.S. Naval Academy…a very impressive place indeed. Tours are offered and it is worth it!
Heading up the G.W. Parkway north and right after passing Rosslyn, Virginia you will come to Roosevelt Island on the right. Park and cross the walking bridge to the island. Even though you are on the Virginia side of the river, you are actually in Washington, D.C. When the District of Columbia was established, 1/3 of the land was donated by Virginia and 2/3 by Maryland. After 1632, Virginia’s boundary along the entire Potomac River was the rivers edge on the Virginia side, the “further Bank of the said River”, not the middle, which is common.
T.R Island is an 88.5 acre- island and a national memorial. The Theodore Roosevelt Association in memory of the 26th U.S. President gave the island to the American people. “In the 1930’s landscape architects transformed the island from neglected, overgrown farmland into Theodore Roosevelt Island, a memorial to America’s first conservationist. They conceived of a “real forest” designed to mimic the natural forest that once covered the island. Today miles of trails through wooded uplands and swampy bottomlands honor the legacy of a great outdoorsman and conservationist.”
From the east side of the river you can view the activity along the Georgetown waterfront. Looking upriver on the D.C. side you can see many canoes and kayaks lining the wharf at Fletcher’s Boat House. Today it is known as Fletcher’s Cove after being taken over by the National Park Service in 2004. After 145 years in business, the fourth generation of the Fletcher family retired in 2004 and Guest Services Incorporated, a National Park Service concessionaire, assumed responsibility for the operation of the concessions. I still call it Fletcher’s Boat House because I remember going there in my teens, some 54 years ago. Back then it was just the iconic gray and dark red rowboats that we would rent and row upstream toThree Sisters Island (three large rocks in the shallows). We were lucky if we had a date.
Today you can rent shinny new plastic canoes and kayaks and paddle about a half-mile upriver and you would be in the wilderness right in the middle of the most powerful city on the planet. The fishing around Fletcher’s is great. It is the upper tidal limit for ocean-going fish like perch, white and hickory shad, herring, and striped bass, known through the Chesapeake region as Rockfish, all of which stack up here in the spring to spawn. It is also the lower limit for cold-water fish like small mouth bass, walleye, tiger muskies and some trout. There are also large numbers of largemouth bass (the Potomac is the 10th largest bass fishery in the east),crappies, bluegill, catfish and carp in these waters. If the mood strikes, you can rent fishing gear at Fletcher’s.
If you want to get away from it all, take a drive to the Rockin S Ranch out side of Winchester, Virginia. Owner of the ranch, Bill Schwasta can provide a mount for you and your friends upon the perfect horse for a short ride in the country and across rivers or book a longer ride to the top of the local mountains. You may be in Virginia, but you will be hanging with a real cowboy!
If you head west you can explore and taste some of the wonderful wine that is made in Virginia. Of course, the first ones to start with are the ones who advertise with us. The closest ones are near Leesburg or Marshall Virginia. We have been writing about Virginia wines for over 27 years, and certainly in the past 12 to 15 years the wines of Virginia have improved remarkably. Take a lunch and enjoy a bottle of wine in some of the most scenic country in the east. The rolling hills of Virginia make for perfect hilltop viewing in the distance, or settle in by one of the many small streams that run through the valleys. You can check out Virginia.org wine trails for the wineries that are in a particular region.
Summer is here and it is a good time to stay close to home. These are a few destinations that are close by and a lot of fun and full of history. Take a boat ride or ride a horse, it is a great time to explore what is in our own backyard.